Elizabeth Taylor, a star on screen and off, dies at 79
The death of Elizabeth Taylor on Wednesday morning at the age of 79 in Los Angeles was, in addition to being a loss for acting and moviedom, a reminder of how celebrity and talent can merge in the best and most interesting ways.
A British-born child star, Taylor went on to carry dozens of films during Hollywood's Golden Age, including award-winning dramas such as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (which won her the second of two Oscars) and astounding flops ("Cleopatra," in which she costarred with Richard Burton, who would later become her husband), with her last turn on the big screen coming in "The Flintsones" in 1994.
She played Maggie in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and Catherine in "Suddenly, Last Summer," the man-seducing Gloria Wandrous in "Butterfield 8" and Rock Hudson's wife in "Giant," in roles as diverse as they were memorable (please write in with your favorite).
But her personal life may have been the best drama of all, with numerous marriages, activist causes, addictions and other stuff of off-screen legend. (You can read The Times' obituary here and Kenneth Turan's tribute here.)
PHOTOS: Highlights from Elizabeth Taylor's movie career.
What's most striking, though, is how the personal and professional managed to coexist. We live in an era when great actresses like Meryl Streep lead comparatively staid lives and off-screen personae such as Kim Kardashian are hardly great actresses. But Taylor evoked no contradiction between talent and tabloid. Her off-screen exploits may have overshadowed her onscreen presence, but they never detracted from it.
In fact, just when it seemed she was getting famous for something other than movie roles, she would offer up a surprise -- soon after she divorced Eddie Fisher in the mid-1960s, for instance, she returned with her Oscar-winning performance in "Woolf."
Speaking of those tabloid exploits, when all was said and done, she had been through eight marriages and seven divorces, which seems far better than the inverse. R.I.P., Elizabeth Taylor.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in "Cleopatra." Credit: Fred Prouser/Reuters